Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’: 10 Easter eggs, fan theories, and hidden meanings decoded

Taylor Swift never shies away from a spectacle. Known for her theatrical shows and colourful music, we’ve grown to anticipate grand album announcements. Yet, this time, with no glitz or glamour, the pop star unveiled her eighth studio album, ‘folklore‘, with nothing more than a lone tweet. 

Written during lockdown and largely produced remotely, the 16-track record sees the singer-songwriter lean into her poetic lyricism and sad cabin girl vibes to deliver, arguably, her best work to date. Like her previous albums, ‘Folklore’ is by no means short of secret messages and clues. During the premiere of lead single ‘cardigan’, Swift took to YouTube to tell a fan she packed the record with “Easter eggs in the lyrics” and “created character arcs & recurring themes”. So, if you’re still reeling from the big reveal, here’s a breakdown of our favourite Easter eggs, hidden meanings, and fan theories to date. 

Who is William Bowery?

Mystery is in the air as we all rush to figure out who the illusive William Bowery could be. Alongside Jack Antonoff, Bon Iver, and The National’s Aaron Dressner, Bowery has been credited as a co-writer for ‘Folklore’. Swift is no stranger to a pseudonym, in fact, she was credited as Nils Sjoberg on Calvin Harris’ smash-hit ‘This Is What You Came For’. The name also cropped up on a tombstone in an early scene of her Reputation lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. Although there’s little information on who Bowery is, Swifties have put together a few theories suggesting it’s most likely to be boyfriend Joe Alwyn. 

UPDATE: In documentary Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions, released in November 2020, Swift confirmed that Joe Alwyn is the mysterious William Bowery. Gotta love it when fans crack the code.

That chaotic teenage love triangle 

In a social media post, Swift openly shared an Easter egg with fans saying: “There’s a collection of 3 songs which I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle”. Swifties were quick to agree that the songs in question are ‘Cardigan’, ‘August’, and ‘Betty’, which revolve around three different character perspectives — Betty, James, and Inez. It’s safe to say ‘Cardigan’ ties to Betty’s view, ‘August’ to Inez, and ‘Betty’ from James’.

Harry Styles visual parallels 

The ‘Cardigan’ music video has caught the attention of fans of both Swift and Styles, with scenes drawing similarities. The overlap has caused some fans to speculate the song could be about the ex, while others are less convinced.  

The crooked piano key

The theories around ‘Cardigan’ do not stop there. Some Swifities have taken a deep dive and pieced together some symbolism around a broken piano key shown in the music video. Theories range from the key being the 7th note and the C scale, which alludes to Swift’s seventh album, Lover, suggesting the broken key reflects Lover’s half journey and cut short era. Others have spotted the key is the 13th key (a number Swift has a history of focusing on) which has been left open for interpretation among fans. 

The Last Great American Dynasty

Three tracks in, Swift tells the story of ‘Rebekah’ who picked out a home in all called it ‘Holiday House’. What sounds like a fictitious plot line turns to be grounded in truth and the song unpacks the story of composer Rebekah Harkness who faced a lot of scrutiny during her career. The song also holds strong similarities with Swift’s Red era song ‘The Lucky One’. 

We need to talk about ‘Exhile’

folklore is packed with nods to past work and Easter eggs. One of Swift’s most discussed songs on the album is ‘Exile (feat Bon Iver). Lyrics continuously loop back to old eras: I think I’ve seen this film before / And I didn’t like the ending: which fans believe is reminiscent of 2010 song ‘If This Was A Movie’ lines: “Come back to me like you would if this was a movie / Baby, what about the ending?”. The bridge in ‘Exile’ also alludes to the Speak Now era with the line “We always walked a very thin line” almost word matching the intro line of emotional ballad ‘Haunted’ — “You and I walk a fragile line”. 

Is Betty the name of Blake Lively’s third child?

Many have taken to the internet to speculate whether ‘Betty’ has revealed the name of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ youngest child. The theory comes after the couple’s daughters’ names (James and Inez) feature on the record. Swift’s friendship with the couple has never been in question, but it famously went viral when a video of Reynold, Lively and Gigi Hadid freaking out during the opening of ‘Gorgeous’ made rounds on the internet. The couple’s eldest daughter, James, was featured on the intro vocals for ‘Reputation’

The Kaylor conspiracy

You’ve heard of Brangelina, now let me introduce you to Kaylor. Earning its stripes by blending the names of Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss, Kaylor has become the unstoppable conspiracy theory surrounding the high-profile stars. With every album, fans have put forward their latest and greatest romantic conspiracies about the blondes. While it’s quite a stretch, many seem to think ‘Folklore’ could be a discreet dedication to Kloss, specifically  ‘Betty’. From interpretations around Instagram parallelsstraight up bold claims, or a fair share of comedic denial — it seems the Kaylor theory continues to live strong. 

The Joe Jonas reference

In a cryptic reference, Swifties have uncovered a line in ‘Invisible String’ which ties to ex Joe Jonas. Swift sings: “For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents”. Taylor Swift famously wrote ‘Forever & Always’ for her second studio album Fearless which was inspired by their breakup. 

The Kanye West dig

Swift and West have had their fair share of history. From dedicating ‘Innocent’ to West in her ‘Speak Now’ days to reclaiming the snake label thrown her way by Kim Kardashian-West during the Reputation era, it seems Swift still holds some strong feelings. In the ironically titled song ‘Peace’, Swift subtly throws a line to West: “There’s robbers to the east and clowns to the west”. In the accompanying lyric video, the first letter of “west” is capitalised as a noun backing the theory that the lyric is dig at Kanye. 

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